American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

British Columbia, Northern Selkirks, Mt. Colossal

  • In Memoriam
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1973

British Columbia, Northern Selkirks, Mt. Colossal. On 19 July Margaret Bland (30) and Al Ramanauskas (29), participants in an Appalachian Mountain Club Climbing Camp organized by the New York Chapter Mountaineering Committee, and Donald Sprecker (48) left Fairy Meadow Cabin to climb Mt. Colossal by the usual route (south east ridge). They reached the summit successfully and decided to descend the south face in order to cross over to climb Horn or Unicorn. They glissaded the slope simultaneously, three abreast and roped together. They triggered an avalanche that carried them over a 50-foot high rock band which resulted in the injuries. Another party, Ed and Joan Nestor, Brad Snyder, and Don Wallace from the A.M.C. group were in the neighborhood and responded to the noise of the avalanche and Sprecker’s shouts. The accident occurred about 1300. The other party reached the accident scene at about 1600. Ramanauskas was already dead. Bland was severely injured and died shortly thereafter. Sprecker had compound fractures of both legs. Snyder went down the glacier to send up aid from Fairy Meadow Cabin. He picked up a companion and the two continued on down Swan Creek for eleven hours before they reached the bank of the Columbia River. Here they were fortunately able to hail a passing truck on the other side of the River. Another truck with a two-way radio was flagged down and a helicopter rescue was requested.

In the meantime Sprecker was placed inside three sleeping bags with ponchos under and over him. The rescuers put up a tent where they spent the night Next morning, shortly after leaving the tent a large boulder fell on the tent where their heads had been. They therefore moved all personnel and gear to a safe place on the glacier where Sprecker was picked up and transported to Golden and later by ambulance to Calgary. Later in the day a larger helicopter came in with investigating officials and removed the two bodies.

Source: Appalachia 39, 143-144, 1972, and Donald Sprecker.

Analysis: Sprecker, a physician, reduced his fractures and spent a comfortable night on the glacier. He stated that the original plan had been to fly to Calgary but the vibration of the helicopter was such that Sprecker felt he was going into shock. Therefore they went to Golden. This points out the need to have such injuries well splinted; if not, there is a possibility of inducing shock in the injured person.

Rescuers later observed that the snow slope was an extremely unstable thin layer of wet snow on top of hard ice. The ice and steepness of the slope (about 50°) made self arrest impossible. The slope faced south and the day had been warm and sunny. The climbers apparently had not recognized the potential hazard nor appreciated the effect of a warm sunny day on a south facing slope.

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